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Plutonium: how can we get rid of it?

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1 Author(s)
Brogden, T.W.P. ; Dept. of Comput. Eng., Ryerson Polytech. Inst., Toronto, Ont., Canada

Plutonium is the enigma of the nuclear age. Its presence and its use are never far from headline news because of the horrendous destruction that it can create. Between them, the military and commercial parts of the world's nuclear industry have created about 1000 tons since the time of its discovery in 1941. Though military production is being scaled back in most of the declared nuclear weapons states, civilian power reactors continue to produce more. The paper highlights many of the problems peculiar to the physical properties of plutonium and the relationships between its uses and its potential for abuse. Following the description of these problems, a brief analysis from a technical viewpoint is presented on the choice of methods available for elimination or disposition of plutonium. A conclusion is drawn from this analysis that a series of global-regional centers could provide the best safeguarding. Finally, the paper stresses the need for the states involved in handling plutonium to develop more democratic mechanisms than have been used in the past for decision making. A vital step in this development is that professional engineers and scientists become more informed about the issues surrounding plutonium so that they can participate fully in the process. This is particularly pertinent for those in the nuclear power industry, which may have to overcome financial disincentives in order to aid the elimination of plutonium.<>

Published in:

Technology and Society Magazine, IEEE  (Volume:13 ,  Issue: 4 )